AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-0 Ashton United

AFC Rushden & Diamonds stunned Step 3 opponents Ashton United with a heroic and valiant display at the Dog & Duck on Saturday afternoon.

After goalkeeper Matt Finlay had made three early but relatively routine saves, the Diamonds took the lead in the 10th minute when Tommy Berwick’s cross from the left was powerfully headed home by Scott Joseph. The advantage was doubled in the 28th minute when a Sam Brown long throw was flicked into his own net by visiting defender Stephen Mason via the underside of the crossbar, and despite the Northern Premier away side dominating possession in the opening period, Rushden headed into the break two goals to the good.

Ashton held the majority of the chances and the general play in the second half, with striker Martin Pilkington having a strike from the edge of the box narrowly deflected wide by Brad Harris and substitute Matty Chadwick stinging Finlay’s hands with a flashing drive from the left side of the box. However, the hosts almost made it 3-0 just after the hour mark with Quigley charging down a defender’s clearance and drawing a reactionary save from the visiting goalkeeper. Aside from a couple of half chances for the visitors being well blocked, the Diamonds defended manfully and stoically, especially in the last 30 minutes, to advance to the Fourth Qualifying Round for the first time in their history.

Manager Andy Peaks made two alterations to the side who had lost their 31 game unbeaten record at home to Basford United in the FA Trophy Preliminary Round last weekend. Delroy Gordon returned to the side after an ankle injury which resulted in Ollie Wilkinson shifting to right-back, and Courtney Herbert replaced Charlie Butt on the right side of midfield. Tom Lorraine and Scott Joseph continued as the strike partnership in a 4-4-2 formation, though that would be shifted and amended as the game wore on.

As this was the same round that the Diamonds reached two years ago before bowing out to Dover Athletic, there was a strong sense of anticipation and keenness around the ground to see if the home side could carry on their strong league form and how they would perform in what many had deemed as the club’s most important game to date in their short history.

It was the Northern Premier League visitors though that started the brighter of the two teams, with neat passing and swift movement in between the hosts’ defence and midfield creating a series of half-chances early on. As early as the first minute a quick break forward left a two-on-two situation for the visitors, and Dale Johnson’s through ball to fellow striker Martin Pilkington saw an effort from the edge of the box which was straight at Matt Finlay. Six minutes later tricky winger Jeff King jinked to the left byline and sent a low ball across the box that Gordon could only partially clear. Johnson picked up the loose ball and saw his left-footed shot well stopped by Finlay’s left foot, before King’s eventual rebound was held by the Diamonds stopper at his near post.

Rushden created their first chance of the contest in the seventh minute after Lorraine won a corner through being tackled on the right of the box. Berwick’s resultant set-piece found its way to Gordon 14 yards out, but unfortunately for the hosts his goalbound strike was well blocked behind for a further corner which came to nothing.

Away midfielder Gary Gee exemplified the Manchester-based visitors’ shoot-on-sight policy with a couple of left footed efforts from the edge of the box which went wide and over respectively, but it was then the Diamonds who were to take the lead. A perfectly executed diagonal ball to the left wing from Gordon found Herbert, and after a sweet first touch he laid the ball back to Tommy Berwick. He looked up and curled in a perfect cross for Scott Joseph to plant a header past co-manager Paul Phillips in the Ashton goal from eight yards out.

Thoughts immediately returned to September 2013 when Diamonds had scored an early goal through Alfie Taylor at home to step 3 Cambridge City in the 2nd Qualifying Round and gone on to win that game, and another perfect start had been achieved in this tie. There were appeals from most of the away backline for offside against the Diamonds striker, but the calls were waved away and Rushden had the lead.

However, Ashton still represented a serious threat when they advanced on the Diamonds defence and a rare slip by Gordon a minute after the opening goal allowed Pilkington the chance to shoot from a narrow angle, but Finlay again saved and clung onto the ball. King then received the ball around 25 yards from goal and hit a left-footed drive goalwards, though Diamonds’ goalkeeper had little trouble in holding onto the shot.

Although the away side were dominating possession and territory on the whole Peaks’ side were defending admirably and limiting them to mainly long range efforts, and whilst the home side weren’t able to keep the ball as well as they could do at this stage they still caused problems for their opponents, especially with set-pieces. This was evidenced perfectly in the 28th minute as the Diamonds doubled their lead, and just as it has been the catalyst for several goals already this season, it was a Sam Brown long throw which caused the damage again. His javelin-like hurl in from the left touchline was inadvertently glanced home by defender Stephen Mason under great pressure from Lorraine, with the Ashton goalkeeper rooted to the spot as the ball flicked off the underside of the bar and in.

The home side, players and fans alike, were naturally in dreamland, and this second goal drove the Diamonds on to their best spell of the game. Just after a Berwick cross from the left had narrowly evaded Joseph coming in at the far post, the two linked up again in the 37th minute as Berwick anticipated the bounce of the ball ahead of full-back Cavell Coo, looked around for support and slipped a pass into the path of Joseph whose 25-yard shot was always rising and cleared the Peter de Banke terrace.

Ashton briefly threatened a riposte before half-time through King’s volleyed effort which flew over after collecting a flick-on from Johnson, but Joseph again looked dangerous himself as a presentable chance opened up for the Diamonds number 10 four minutes into added-on time. A curled ball in behind the away defence found Lorraine who had timed his bending run perfectly, and after advancing into the penalty area he played the ball back to the onrushing Joseph who steered a slightly tame effort straight in Phillips’ hands.

Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-0 Ashton United

As the referee Nigel Smith got the action underway for the second half, the Diamonds knew that it was imperative to see out any danger and threat in the opening exchanges of the half just as they were unable to do at Dover two years previously. The pattern of the half was set very early on, with the hosts happy to hold onto the lead that they held and try to hit their opponents on the counter-attack at any given opportunity.

After 10 minutes of steady Ashton pressure, Dan Quigley was introduced into the fray in place of Courtney Herbert. This meant a re-shuffle in the Rushden midfield and attack, with the formation shifting to 4-5-1 (when not in possession)/ 4-3-3 (when in possession) and Lorraine dropping back to right midfield.

Shortly after this change, in the 59th minute, the Northern Premier side came within inches of reducing the deficit. Pilkington, who proved to be a livewire all afternoon, cut inside from the left to shoot at goal from the edge of the box, and a sizeable deflection from Brad Harris left Finlay motionless but thankfully for the heart rates of many Diamonds supporters the ball dropped just wide of the left post. The resultant corner found substitute Matty Chadwick in plenty of space outside the penalty area but Quigley produced a heroic block from the thudding effort.

Chadwick was again involved two minutes later as a skilful interchange around the Diamonds box eventually saw the ball worked through to the Ashton number 14, and his stinging left-footed shot from the left side required Finlay to beat the ball away, with a foul on Harris relieving the ever-building pressure.

The home side were able to fashion one good chance which could have put the game to bed in the 63rd minute. Lorraine, whose hard-work and continuous running proved so effective throughout, burst down the right channel and fired the ball across goal, though Gee looked to have a simple clearance to get rid of the danger. However, his clearance was well blocked by the charging Quigley eight yards from goal, and the ball ricocheted towards goal drawing a superb point-blank save from Phillips to keep the scoreline to 2-0.

 Ashton were now pushing more and more men forward in search of a way back into the contest, and the Diamonds began to sit deeper as the pressure began to be increased and sustained, and ‘HMS Alamo’ prepared to dock in Rushden’s half. Substitute Aaron Burns did well to collect a ball from Gee down the right side and skip away from the attempted challenge of Liam Dolman, but his flashed ball looking for a fellow teammate in the box ran away to safety for the home side.

Charlie Butt was then introduced to give a rest to the tireless Scott Joseph, and a further change to the system now saw a 4-1-4-1 formation for Rushden, with Butt on the right, Lorraine up front and Bunting protecting and marshalling in front of the back four.

To their immense credit, the Diamonds did manage to restrict the adventurous visitors to a series of long balls and set-pieces into the heart of the penalty area, with Delroy Gordon and Liam Dolman in particular dealing with any sign of danger imperiously and effectively. Gordon blocked one effort after a corner from the right in the 81st minute, and Bunting also cleared one effort way in stoppage time after the ball had travelled through a ruck of players in the box.

There was one slightly unsavoury incident when a rare home break forward led to Lorraine losing the ball, and in the attempt to win back possession Quigley dived into a challenge which sparked an angry reaction from several of the Ashton players. Berwick and visiting defender Alex Frost received warnings from the referee, and play was allowed to resume in the competitive and spirited nature that had preceded it.

This altercation, along with a full quota of substitutes used by both sides and several other stoppages, led to seven minutes of added-on time, but the Diamonds managed to limit the danger through a series of crucial headers and vital clearances. The referee then called time on the contest to loud and vociferous cheers around the majority of the ground, and it was visible to see how much this result meant to the players, fans and coaching staff alike at the shrill of the whistle.

Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-0 Ashton United

This result will perhaps go down as the best one achieved by any of the AFC Rushden & Diamonds senior team to date, and the sheer amount of hard-work, determination and application to the cause that was on show means huge credit should be given to everyone who helped contribute to it. Delroy Gordon, Liam Dolman, Richard Bunting and Tom Lorraine in particular played magnificently, and the entire back four defended heroically in the face of a strong and persistent threat from Ashton throughout the game, but especially in the second half. However, that does not take anything away from any of the other home players, and credit must also be given to Ashton who contributed to a great Cup tie and always looked dangerous when going forward. This game will surely be talked about in years to come amongst many of the Diamonds faithful, and attentions now focus on the Fourth Qualifying Round draw at 10:30am on Monday morning which will contain National League sides. Rushden’s next fixture is in the Red Insure Cup First Round on Tuesday night at home to Histon, and they return to league action next Saturday on the 17th October when Potters Bar Town visit the Dog & Duck.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Richard Bunting

Attendance: 630

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Ashton United

17. Matt Finlay

2. Ollie Wilkinson

3. Sam Brown

4. Delroy Gordon

5. Liam Dolman

6. Brad Harris

7. Tommy Berwick

8. Richard Bunting (C)

9. Tom Lorraine

10. Scott Joseph

11. Courtney Herbert



12. Dan Quigley (for Herbert 55)

13. Alex Vitue

14. Charlie Butt (for Joseph 74)

16. Steve Spriggs

18. Joe Ackroyd (for Berwick 89)

19. Mate Kadar

1. Paul Phillips

2. Stephen Mason

3. Cavell Coo

4. Alex Frost

5. Joe Connor

6. Will Haining (C)

7. Chris Sutherland

8. Gary Gee

9. Martin Pilkington

10. Dale Johnson

11. Jeff King



12. Aaron Burns (for Sutherland 55)

13. Josh Samberg

14. Matty Chadwick (for Connor 29)

15. Adam Morning

16. Jody Banim (for Pilkington 73)

17. Steve Halford

Goals: Joseph (10), Mason OG (28)

Goals: None

Yellow Cards: None

Yellow Cards: None

Referee: Nigel Smith

Assistants: Paul Hands, Ritchie Watkins



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